May 27, 2011

On The Temptation of Power

I will continue to highlight the discipline of secrecy. However, I must say that Sharon Hodde-Miller's article on power is excellent. Here is an excerpt: " . . . worldly power is not a neutral entity. It has the potential to change an individual in the most fundamental ways. It can distort our vision by perverting the way we see ourselves and those around us. This means that Christians are to handle power with fear and trembling. Worldly power is not beyond the redemptive work of God, but it is a great seducer that has ruined the lives of men and women throughout history."

See the rest of the article here:

May 19, 2011

Taming the Hunger for Fame: The Discipline of Secrecy Part 1.

I am struck by this discipline because it seems that so many of us do not practice it. It is so needed in evangelical Christianity. Most everyone is vying for attention, vying for numbers. Pastors, churches, musicians, writers, media outlets. In our pursuit of numbers, of fame, of notoriety--all in the  name of God of course, are we being faithful?

Well, let me not be coy. God has given me the ministry of writing. But I wrestle with my gift all of the time.  Because everywhere I turn I hear, "Get more followers! Build your platform! Do something to attract more people to your blog!"  One agent told me that I'd have to have 5,000 visits/hits a day to be considered famous enough to be considered. Really there's no chance for me via blogging, unless of course, God makes a way. Perhaps you've heard something along the lines that obscurity is death for an artist--death for a writer.

But then again, I think about how Jesus labored in obscurity for thirty-years. I just cannot take illegitimate actions to try and accomplish only what God can do. I am not saying that I won't continue to write or speak; what I am saying is that I can't take this business into my own hands. God says "no" to me as far as illegitimate self- promotion goes. Perhaps all forms of self-promotion are illegitimate. Christians go back and forth about that. And I am in no way standing in judgment over what others are doing. I am accountable to God for my attitudes and actions though.

The discipline of secrecy is of great help in this area. This disicpline takes all kinds of forms in our individual lives depending on our temptations. Here I will include an excerpt from Dallas Willard's book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, that explains secrecy:

"In the discipline of secrecy--and here again, the word is not perfectly suited to our purposes--we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. we may even take steps to prevent them from being known, if it doesn't involve deceit. To help us lose or tame the hunger for fame, justification, or just the mere attention of others, we will often need the help of grace. But as we practice this discipline, we learn to love to be unknown and even to accept misudnerstanding without loss of our peace, joy, and purpose.

Few things are more important in stabilizing our walk of faith than this discipline. In the practice of secrecy, we experience a continuing relationship with God independent of the opinions of others."

pp. 172-173

* More on this in the next post

May 18, 2011

The Devastation of Divorce

This is a post that I wrote for Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog. It was posted today. Dr. Root's suggestions to the church for becoming a community of belonging for children of divorce is also applicable, I believe, for becoming a community of belonging for anyone. The church should be the community of the beloved.

May 16, 2011

Dames Rocket: Life on the Edge

This is a beautiful and honest reflection from a friend of mine who does not want to masquerade in church. I have included the entire reflection below. Do check out her blog:

The first time I saw Dame’s Rocket was in my first Ohio May, and I fell in love with it. I have been partial to purple flowers for many years, and Dame’s Rocket spans almost the entire spectrum of purple: from the palest wisp of purple to a vibrant, full-throated trumpeting of the glorious color – all against the background of the freshest green of new Spring. But Dame’s Rocket is mysterious and sneaky, and you might only see it if you have eyes that seek out blossoms that grow in the wild as mine do. It likes the edges of nature and specifically, the edges between woods and field. Dame’s Rocket seeds itself readily in dappled sunlight but not in complete sun or full shade. It also reminds me of deer that are more often than not seen at the edge of a wood, tails flashing as they disappear into a copse or forest. I feel lucky when I see them, as I do when I see Dame’s Rocket.

Ohio is once again in the season of Dame’s Rocket, and as I drove by woods and fields today, I searched for it. Perhaps not a great idea when one is driving solo, but I couldn’t help it. My eyes have been searching it out for 16 springs now. It beckons me every year, and today I discovered yet one more reason that it calls me so strongly. It is this: I am not unlike Dame’s Rocket. I have lived on the edge of worlds for a good portion of my adult life, and I need to believe that I, too, exist there as a thing of beauty. That when someone searches the between-spaces of life, I will be blooming and showing forth for anyone who cares to observe.

It is not easy living on the edge. If you stop and think about what it really means to live on the edge, it doesn’t take long to figure out that it means that you don’t really belong to one world or the other. Or, if you relate it to the “edgeness” of Dame’s Rocket, a person on the edge may exist partly in one world and partly in the opposite world. Sun and shade, Christianity and secularism, fundamentalism and heresy, political liberalism and conservatism, art and utilitarianism, smoking-hot short skirts and denim jumpers. As I went through today, so many of the things in this aforementioned list reared up and challenged each other, but the one that sucker-punched me was the contrast between fundamentalism and heresy.

It came in the form of an email, an email from someone to whom I am very close. The gist of the email was this: that a guy who has devoted his life to serving Christ in the Mennonite Brethren Church among its youth has been blacklisted from speaking at any Mennonite Brethren youth camps in the future. The reason? He has blogged about prayer labyrinths, U2, dreams, and (gasp!) Rob Bell. The camp director believed that it would put youth at risk if they were to look up his blog, that they may be tempted to leave the faith as a result of reading discussions about such things. In other words, to even discuss these things objectively puts one in the murky places between orthodoxy and heresy, and any person wishing to do so must not be tolerated in the Mennonite Brethren Church.

This comes only a few days after I told a person that the Mennonite Brethren, unlike the Old Mennonite order, do not engage in the practice of shunning. Well, maybe they do and just don’t have the guts to call it shunning. While this is the “same song, second verse” in my own experience over the last 10 years with evangelicals, it is also, undoubtedly, “a little bit louder and a little bit worse” because now it is coming from the denomination in which I first met Jesus.

Jesus. As a child, I loved Jesus immediately. As I understood it, Jesus was the best Christmas present of a Father who was even better than my own father, who I thought was pretty amazing (and still do!). The stories of how Jesus met bad people, loved them, and made them good captivated me. The drama of the death and resurrection of Jesus spoke to the deep places that even a five-year-old can sometimes have. As a result, I went through my early childhood feeling a sense of belonging to a group of people who also loved Jesus. My people defined themselves as a people who believed that loving Jesus and living out the things that he spoke about, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, was paramount to being a part of God’s kingdom.

But over time, American politics has polarized Christian denominations and claimed many of them as its own, even a denomination who used to claim the strongest of allegiances to the Kingdom of God and minimize allegiance to any of the kingdoms of this earth. But now, if I believe in social justice – yes, the kind of Kingdom of God-justice that the Bible talks about – I am suspected of being a heretic and (dare I say it?) unAmerican, which in today’s fundamentalism is the same thing as heresy. If I honestly labor over questions of God’s character, his love and holiness, it is urged by more denominations than I care to think about that I be held as someone not trustworthy to lead the coming generation. Never mind that these are some of the burning questions of this generation.

And I don’t belong in the world of heretics either. I actually believe that there is something to this story of Jesus. I believe that he was the unique God-man who came to bring forgiveness and a new Kingdom that we were commanded to continue building between his appearances. And I believe that Jesus, not man, will be the reconciler of all creation (Col 1). So the liberals definitely don’t want me.

I find myself here, once again, on the edge of orthodoxy and heresy, according to someone else’s definition, but not the definition I see in the Bible itself. I am deeply saddened to think that evangelical faith has been politicized, co-opted by people who do not even claim to be evangelical – Sean Hannity: Catholic, Glenn Beck: Mormon, Michael Medved: Jewish – and rubber stamped by evangelicals who are now toadies of civil religion.

I cannot live in either world. I must continue to exist in the between places of conservative and liberal faith, sun and shade. Some of my leaves and petals are warmed by the sun, and some of them are cooled by the shade. But I cannot exist where it is either only hot or solely cold. To do so would mean death to my soul, to the very elements that make me grow and blossom. And so my commitment to being spriritual Dame’s Rocket on the edge of faith and belief remains. And I hope that one day, I will find that this supernatural purple will have reseeded itself so that there are more and more beautiful blossoms in the wild places between spiritual field and forest. For it is there where much of life’s beauty and mystery is found, and it is there where I am waiting.

May 13, 2011

A Masquerade Ball in The Church & Christian Institutions?

"Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God." I Peter 1:17-23

We always hear, "take your mask off, be yourself." That is good advice. But what if the people around you hand you a mask to wear? What if you find yourself in an environment where people hand you a mask that looks like everyone else's? What if your environment forces you to masquerade because not masquerading will rock the boat and cause those in power to lose control?

This is terrible when it happens in the church and in Christian institutions. And boy, does it happen! There are people who do not want you to be yourself, to think and act for yourself. They maintain control and put on a false front. They foist upon you their masks and get bent all out of shape when you refuse to wear them, when you refuse to play along. Isn't it sickening? Is that what Jesus would do?

Jesus upset the religious people of the day because he didn't play by their arbritary rules or wear the masks that they were foisting upon him. He did anything but masquerade. They tried to mask the face of God. God would have none of it. When he refused, they said he wasn't playing by the rules; he was stirring up revolt. He had a rebellious spirit, they said. They called him Beelzebub.

We do it today. People try to do it to you and me--all in the name of their version of Christianity, not historic Christianity. Here I am not advocating rebellion against Jesus, or sinfulness in order for us to "be ourselves." Nor am I advocating rugged individualism. I am advocating that we allow each other to be the people that God has called us to be. So many people rail against cookie-cutter Christianity, but in the end they'll have nothing else. They can't handle anything else.

Being a non-cookie cutter personailty yet a devout follower of Jesus may lead some to lable you as a trouble-maker, as an insurrectionist. But I say, wherever you are, love and honor those around you, but don't let them mask who God has made you to be. Don't masquerade. Loving them doesn't mean you aquiesce to their sinful attitudes and postures--to their control. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is live and speak the truth in love.

Ugh. I have to say it again: masquerading is sickening. It's untruthful and lacks integrity. It is playing to the crowd and people pleasing. It accomplishes little--doing more harm than good. If you put a mask on, that's out of fear and perhaps self-protection. If someone tries to force a  mask on you--that is diabolical control.

Let us, as Peter said, love one another from the heart with a mutual love. May we not force our political leanings, denominational preferences, or belief about peripheral doctrines upon one another. God is not threatened by who we are, why should we be?  If others are while we are obediently following Jesus, let God be true and every man or woman a liar.

May 10, 2011

Monastic Mentality Saves The World

A Repost:

When I was younger, I couldn't figure out why on earth certain monks and nuns took vows of silence. It seemed like an empty ritual. How foolish I was! I now realize these silent monastics are acutely aware of the toxic waste that flows from their mouths. They keep silence to save the earth. Perhaps I should join them.

Advice to those of us who consider ourselves righteous but have no control of the tongue: Let's be eco-friendly. Let's keep our mouths shut!

May 6, 2011

Some Truth About The Christian College Experience

I work on the campus of a Christian university. I love the students and my coworkers. It's a great place. But I need parents to know: it's not heaven on earth. Some parents think that by sending their precious babies to a Christian school or university that they'll protect their children from evil in the world. It's not true. Evil and brokeness are within all of us and therefore within our Christian institutions.

So, everything that students experience on a secular college campus is here. The difference is that hopefully, the administration/faculty/staff handle it from a Christo-centric perspective. More times than not that is the case, yet even that isn't always guaranteed to happen.

Students struggle with porn, drug addictions, from parental abuse, depression, cutting, gender identity, lawlessness, drinking, stealing, hypocrisy, legalism, arrogance, materialism, greed, perfectionism, doubt, premarital sex etc. Yes, even students from Christian homes. We want to model following Jesus to our students, but parents must remember that the school environment is not Jesus the Messiah. It doesn't save their students. Each student has the responsibility to follow Jesus. The school is not going to follow Jesus for them.

And while I think a Christian university is a wonderful thing for many, for some it is more damaging than a secular institution. For some, being at a secular university is better than being at a Christian one. Deciding whether or not to send your child to a Christian university is a process that requires discernment.

May 3, 2011

Using God For Our Own Advancement

This is a follow up post from a question from Mark over at:

He wondered what I or Henri Nouwen was getting at in my post "The Temptation To Be Relevant."

I posted an excerpt from Henri Nouwen's book In The Name of Jesus. It is a book geared toward Christian leaders, but applies to any believer. Here I will further explain what I think of Christians seeking fame and glory.

Most of the time we don't admit to it. But what starts out as our effort to use the gifts God has given us can subtley turn into a venture in making a name for ourselves all in the name of Jesus. Being famous or well-known doesn't imply that one is a glory robber (robbing glory from God) and that one is seeking relevance at all costs. However, somtimes it is the case (and actually probably more often than we like to admit) that life becomes almost solely about the advancement of our own reputation and influence and not the advancement of the Kingdom of God although we might tell ourselves and others that's the case.

How do we know? Well, that's what silence and solitude is for. It is what close relationships are for. Many times even non-believers see it as clear as day, they see it often before Christians do. We need others to speak truth to us and we need to listen to it. We need to know when we start to turn phony.

Perhaps we no longer spend time in prayer or with God. We minister without the life of God coursing through us. Maybe just trickling through us. Ministry becomes a profession. Pastors, worship leaders, and other ministry staff aren't walking with Christ but are still able to give a performance. It can happen to any one of us. And that is when ministry becomes about us. We care not so much about advancing God and his ways, but of advancing our own notoriety.

 Seek God not relevance. Relevance will follow.

That doesn't mean that we don't do our work, or don't do it well, or seek new avenues of ministry. It means our first aim isn't to be relevant. Our first aim is to follow Christ. I truly believe that if we follow him, he'll provide the audience and the people who are to hear/read/be ministered to.

Let God bestow glory on us. Let him promote us as we are faithful to him. He will. Do not Peter and James tell us, "Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up?" (I Peter 5:6, James 4:10).

Thank you for the question.

Here is further explanation from the late and wise Andrew Murray: